Articles

Virtuosic Pedalling

Are you squeamish about using the soft pedal? Some players never venture there, because at some point their teacher has told them they need to be able to control soft playing by hand – and if they resort to the soft pedal they will soon come to use it as a crutch and will have no control of their sound. Those who fear their playing is disturbing others often seem to slam down the soft pedal at the start of a practice session and leave it there until they are done. They have set up such a strong reflex that their left foot just goes there automatically, no matter the piano or the situation. The effect is to muffle the sound and remove clarity and focus, a bit like someone apologetically covering their mouth as they speak. This is not good for general, habitual use at all but is a wonderful resource if it’s the sound you’re after for a particular effect. Have you stopped to consider that every single piano in the world comes equipped with a soft pedal, from the humblest upright to the mightiest concert grand? A muting device was even included on the earliest pianos (at that stage a hand stop), and in more recent developments from Fazioli we now have fourth pedal to the left of the others on the F308 model. The new pedal reduces the hammer-blow distance, thus reducing the volume without modifying the timbre (akin to the mechanics of the soft pedal on an upright piano). One might deduce from all of this that the soft pedal is here to stay – and is certainly there to be used. There is a fascinating new video just out from Frederic […]

More Than Just The Music

This week’s guest post features an article by pianist, teacher and performance coach Charlotte Tomlinson. In her post, Charlotte shares her journey towards becoming a performance coach and her approach to helping musicians enjoy a free, enjoyable and inspired performing life. *** *** *** More Than Just The Music: My Journey Towards Performance Coaching Performance Coaching is still quite a new concept in the music profession at large, although over the last few years there has been a much greater openness towards anything that supports a musician’s overall health and wellbeing. In the sports world, it’s a well understood term and Performance Coaches are common – you just have to google the term to see that there are far more performance coaches for athletes than there are for musicians. There is also a vast literature of performance psychology in the sports world that’s been around for about fifty or sixty years. For whatever reason, athletes appear to have understood sooner than musicians, that there is more to being successful in your chosen area than technique, talent and hard work. In musical circles, nobody has yet defined what performance coaching actually is, or what it should be, so I am just going to share with you my version and what I offer. As a Performance Coach, I aim to support a musician in clearing everything that gets in the way of them performing to their full potential. This can be on a physical, emotional, psychological or musical level. The next step is to help that performer get into a good emotional state so that they give of their best while loving the whole performing experience. I came to performance coaching through years of piano teaching and […]

Brahms Intermezzo op 76 no 7 Study Edition

Brahms’s sets of miniatures are among the best-loved shorter works in the whole piano literature, regularly programmed by concert artists and yet approachable by piano students and amateurs. The Intermezzo in A minor, op. 76 no. 7, is currently on the ABRSM Grade VIII syllabus, and will pose several challenges for those who wish to master it. I am pleased to announce that I have published some new resources featuring this work this week. These resources include an Annotated Study Edition and video walkthrough which have a special emphasis on artistic pedalling. In the video walkthrough, I look mainly at how to overcome the obstacles posed by the rests in the RH without drying out the pedal. If we pedal through the harmony as we would want to, we create the harmonic cloud the LH produces but we cover over the RH rest. If we interpret the rest as a literal and audible silence, we risk disturbing the harmonic underpinnings. There is a neat solution, involving phrase shaping, slow release pedals and overlapping touch in the LH. I admit its subtle and will take a bit of practice, but then playing a Brahms Intermezzo beautifully is no easy task! Apart from showing you how this pedalling solution works, in the Study Edition I also explore some fingering possibilities in the introduction – do we use legato fingerings and substitutions in the RH chord stream (bars 4-8) or do with go with all 5s in the top line? It depends on your hand size, but the principle is to avoid twisting at the wrist. I’ll also point out a neat exchange between the hands later in the piece that you won’t want to miss! Please click on […]

Can Sight-Reading be Taught?

The Online Academy’s collaboration with the Read Ahead team is a very happy one for me, since I can heartily endorse the innovative programme they have created to help pianists develop their sight-reading skills. Today’s post is a guest post by Ken Johansen and Travis Hardaway from Read Ahead, and I shall now pass you over to them. ***   ***   *** Most piano teachers agree that fluent sight-reading is a very important skill, one that ideally all students should develop. Fluent readers are more at ease at the piano, learn music more quickly, have broader musical horizons, make music more often with others, and receive more opportunities to perform. The question is, how do we help our students to develop this fluency? We can start, first of all, by teaching them the skills that make good sight-reading possible. In reality, sight-reading is not one skill, but a set of several inter-related skills that include: scanning the score intelligently before starting, maintaining a steady pulse, keeping our eyes on the score, hearing the music in our minds, reading in groups of notes, looking ahead as we play, and simplifying the music when necessary. With the exception of the last one, these are all skills that apply not only to sight-reading, but also to learning repertoire. If we bring these elements into play at every lesson, in every piece the student learns, we will be teaching him or her not only the piece, but also the musical skills needed for fluent sight-reading. Of course, it is not enough to work on these skills solely on repertoire pieces, and only during the weekly lesson. Students must sight-read unfamiliar pieces regularly, not only at lessons, but at […]

Popular Posts and Articles

Graham is currently away and will be resuming his regular blog posts in September. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some holiday reading, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular blog posts and Online Academy series from the first half of this year. We’re also offering 40% off all eBooks in our store until 31/07 (please see further details below). Most popular blog posts But it Takes Me Ages to Learn a New Piece! Enjoying Ultra-Slow Practice On Practice versus Playing Through Developing Sight Reading Skills On Silence and Reflection in Practice Most popular Online Academy series The Basics of Playing Scales and ABRSM Grade 1 Scales & Broken Chords Burgmuller: 25 Easy and Progressive Etudes, Op. 100 CPE Bach – Solfeggietto in C Minor Technical Exercises and Regimes Read Ahead – Level 3 ***   ***   *** Practising the Piano eBook Series (Revised Editions!) There are surprisingly few books that deal with the art of practising. This multimedia eBook series contains hundreds of videos, audio clips, music examples and downloadable worksheets to show you exactly what need to do in order to get the most out of your practice time. Click here for more information. Practising the Piano Online Academy Building on my blog posts and eBook series, the Online Academy takes my work to the next level with a comprehensive library of lessons, masterclasses and resources combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, it will transform the way you approach playing or teaching the piano! A number of articles are available without registration and you can also register for free to view an additional five articles (no credit card required). Click here to find out more about the Online […]

Symmetry in Practice

In everyday language, symmetry refers to the quality of being made up of exactly similar parts facing each other or around an axis. There is a sense of harmoniousness and beauty in proportion and balance that is aesthetically pleasing to us, because it reflects nature. Symmetry can be an exact correspondence on either side of a dividing line, plane, centre or axis, or it can retain proportion and balance without being exact. A while back I wrote a blog post on an unusual way of practising that was used a lot more in the past than it appears to be today, the technique of symmetrical inversion. Since writing this, I have explored it a bit more and found a few extremely useful ways of applying it. More on this in a moment. By way of endorsement, virtuosos such as Leopold Godowsky believed very much in this way of practising, and Marc-Andre Hamelin also uses it.  Listen to Mr. Hamelin talking about and demonstrating symmetrical inversion practice here, from 3:57 to 6:00. Have you noticed that the piano keyboard is symmetrical from two places within the octave – the note D and the note A flat? Thus, if I play a D major scale ascending in my RH, using the conventional fingering 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5, the exact mirror image can be reproduced in the LH – the same intervals, the same fingerings and finger distances, and the same pattern of black and white notes. Instead of D major, we get B flat major, starting and ending on the 3rd degree of the scale: Similarly, the scale of A flat major, RH ascending, gives us E major descending in the LH, starting on the 3rd degree of the scale: If I play the D major […]

By |November 7th, 2014|Articles|8 Comments

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